Thursday, August 27, 2015



            It doesn’t pay to think in the middle of the night.

            Even my computer messes with me, protesting that I should cease and desist . . . and a voice whispers in my head, Don’t write this stuff down. It won’t do you any good, and it won’t help the world. Besides, who wants to read it?. 

But tonight I can’t help it.

What set me off was a warning on TV about nuclear power plants—a pediatrician describing how nuclear plants spew carcinogens into the air, causing malignancies in those who live nearby . . . how Germany, having discovered their children dying of  cancer, is shutting them all down.  But here? Our country plans to power them all up, even extending the licenses of aging plants.

I’m in bed and can’t sleep. Power plants billow before my eyes. Then I see forest fires exploding in Washington, walls of flame raging skyward as though hurled by demons--and elsewhere, fields and forests alike burning freely, as though this is the natural order of things . . . and I think, God, please . . . can’t you spare some rain? Just three days’ worth? 

Like the fire, my thoughts rage on . . . houses swept into rivers, people escaping  city-wide floods in boats . . . tornadoes tearing up the land . . . and this winter in Boston, snow piled higher than anyone has ever seen. Every month a new disaster, until it’s clear that “normal” weather no longer exists. Yet the Florida governor will not allow the words climate change used officially--even as the ocean threatens to work its way inland. Meanwhile, half the members of Congress insist that global warming is a hoax. Don’t try to fix it, Obama. We’ll sue. 

What global warming doesn’t do to us, we do to ourselves. Half of us are dying to own guns. Well, we’re dying, all right, at least 30,000 of us a year, and the more guns we  own, the more of us will die. But the NRA doesn’t believe in statistics; they believe in firepower. If guns are good, assault rifles can’t be bad. If adults need shooting lessons, so do eight-year-olds. They also believe money buys votes. Who has more power in Congress, anyway? The dead children in Newtown, or the NRA?  

Just today, two women on a TV crew are shot—in daylight, on television.

Of all the bad things that occur to me at midnight, none are worse than ISIS. Not since ancient barbarians poured down from the hills and killed indiscriminately have we seen more brutality, more slaying without reason, more beheadings, more destruction of precious antiquities, more enslavement of women.

In the same area, of course, Assad is gassing his own people.  

Enough, I think. Here and there in our country we see glimmers of hope: Little children collecting groceries to help grownups who are hungry. A new head of the FBI whose principles are stronger than his ambitions. Kids learning to play violins. An old man setting up his sewing machine on a sidewalk to mend clothes for strangers. A cute little boy with two new hands. And miracle of miracles—a possible cure for melanoma. 

So it isn’t all grim, even in the dark hours of the night.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015



            None of us lived through those days, but we all know about them.

            At first, everyone made fun of Hitler. He ranted like a fool, and he looked half-crazed—above that nasty little mustache were wild eyes, and pasted-down black hair.

Germany’s intelligent citizens shook their heads and clucked in scorn. He makes a lot of noise, they thought, and says what he damn pleases, but to most Germans it was all  show and idiotic nonsense, aimed at people who didn’t know better. So who could take him seriously?  For heaven’s sake, he was a house painter!   

To this day, intelligent Germans cannot fathom why so many people were comfortable with Hitler’s venom, and ultimately accorded him power that the rest of the country could never take back. In “The Past is Myself,” Christabel Bielenberg, a Brit married to a German lawyer, described--with appropriate horror--what she and the vast number of intelligent Germans lived through. With amazing detail she records the surprise, and then dismay that this could possibly happen. Over the next eighteen years, her book was re-printed twenty-three times! 

Everyone I know or read about made similar noises of scorn when Donald Trump entered the Republican race. His message was ludicrous, and so disparaging of Hispanics it bordered on dangerous--and besides, he looked terrible. Even he admits people make fun of his hair.

The Hispanic comments supposedly finished him. Except they didn’t. Next he attacked John McCain, (who really was a hero), and said, “My heroes are people who don’t get captured.”

The McCain slur should have finished him.

But it didn’t. Next he made hash of another Republican.  And then he said, “Sarah Palin makes sense. She will have a place in my cabinet.”

To all of us watching in surprise, it seemed unthinkable that Donald Trump rose in the polls—and kept rising.

Surely, we think, nobody takes him seriously. But like the intelligent Germans who couldn’t believe what happened to them, a lot of us can’t believe what is happening right here in America.  

It seems that plenty of people take Donald Trump seriously. REALLY! How easily we dismiss them, how cavalierly we assume their hero will soon implode.

But will he? 

Don’t be so sure.   

Sunday, August 2, 2015



            First it was the HMOs.  Now it’s the Nerds. 

            Thanks to nerds who write computer programs for doctors without consulting doctors--and thanks to a government that insists all medical records be electronic--today’s medicine is a mess. Instead of treating patients, doctors spend patient-time staring at computers. In some programs physicians can’t, for instance, refer to the term “blood.” The nerds have decided the operative word for blood should be ostag.   

Computer systems written by techs with no medical input have created an expensive, frustrating electronic hodgepodge . . . in which computers from one doctor’s office can’t speak to those in another’s, in which hospitals can’t communicate with other hospitals, in which record-keeping in every doctor’s office is currently like dealing with an ever-growing but insane octopus.

Diagnosis codes, for instance, have expanded from 40,000 to a little over half a million—with huge penalties if the systems aren’t implemented. It’s so bad now that one or two-doctor offices can no longer exist. Doctors must practice in groups, because they need several people full time just to keep the octopus under control.

Did you know that most hospitals require their doctors to create a new password every month? Tell me . . . who can keep track, mentally, of twelve different passwords a year? Inevitably, doctors have to write them down. Which defeats the whole idea.  

I’m not a doctor, but I’m surrounded by them. One is my son, three are good friends, and another is a breast-care surgeon with whom I’m writing a book. Lately I’ve been thinking that America’s doctors—if they weren’t so busy—should rise up and revolt.

Somebody has to straighten out this mess.

If doctors were businessmen instead of doctors, the chaos would soon be gone. Think of aviation: when a pilot speaks to a control tower, every pilot in the world uses the same language—English. And every pilot communicates with the same alphabet:  Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot . . .

Think of the movies—when “color” first came out, all filmmakers began using the same technology.

And remember when Beta Max promised to be the sole means of recording TV programs? But then VCR came along and took over. Later, as a group, we moved over to DVD. But at least we’re all using the same system.    

The problem is, good doctors want to practice medicine. Most are in the business because they care about people. They want to communicate with patients, not computers. If they MUST deal with computers, physicians want them to make sense.  Today, few electronic medical systems make any sense at all . . . they merely waste time. So some very good doctors are giving up. 

If enough doctors quit medicine, something good will definitely happen. Wait and see. There’ll be a day when nobody will hire a computer nerd unless he’s also a doctor.